Monday, April 22, 2013

Listen, Learn, Obey

Preached at South Salem Friends Church
April 21, 2013

Mary and Martha, Radical Faith

Luke 10: 38-42
Jesus went into Bethany, a town close to Jerusalem, and was invited in by a woman named Martha, who had a sister named Mary (and a brother named Lazarus, as we remember from a later story).  Martha was hospitable and busied herself with serving everyone—the word is diakonia, root of deacon, by the way—and Mary sat at Jesus’s feet to hear what he had to say.

Martha was weighed down by her work, distracted and driven to do it right.  She came to Jesus and said, “Master, Messiah, don’t you care for my distress? I am drowning in work, and Mary is doing nothing to help me. Tell her to work alongside me and help me.”

Jesus replied, “Martha, Martha.  You are full of cares and disturbed about so many things.  But only this one thing is a duty, is required. Mary has chosen what brings health and is useful and honorable.  No one will be allowed to take it away from her.”

We don’t have the next bit of the story, which is where, perhaps, Martha sits down also, her worry smoothed away, and lets the words of Jesus soak into her.  We can see that there must have been some time when she did so, because she is the one who runs to meet Jesus when he comes to comfort them after the death of her brother Lazarus.  In John 10, she says, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died, and I know even now that God will give you whatever you ask.”  When Jesus responds that Lazarus will rise again, she says, “I know that he will rise again at the last resurrection.”  Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, still lives. And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She replied with as decisive a statement of faith as any in the Bible:  “Yes, Master, yes Messiah, I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, come into our world just as you were meant to.” This belief is the foundation on which the church is built.

Clearly, Martha had done some listening, too. 

South Salem Friends are making this next year a holy experiment.  Though I know you are sad about being unable to keep Jim as your pastor, your elders have a vision of how to move forward in this next that can transform your lives individually and as a congregation.

Let’s think first about your call to be ministers, deacons, servants to your neighbors through your Tuesday evening dinner.  This is an awesome ministry, and the fact you find it still invigorating and fun means you are doing it right.  Hospitality is high on the list of Christian values, as is generosity, another aspect of your ministry.

At the same time, this ministry is grounded in a vision of Jesus, the resurrection and the life.  Jesus is in our world, just as God means him to be, and his Holy Spirit walks with us every day to teach us what we need to learn and tell us what we need to do.  The work of Jesus in the world is to reconcile the world to God.  Reconcile means that you once again bring yourself face to face, eyebrow to eyebrow, with God.  You look God in the eyes and let God look you in the eyes.  What do you see?  What do you sense that God sees in you?

Let’s take a few minutes to sit with this picture.  You look directly into God’s eyes, reconciling with God.

Write down for yourself or to share what you saw in God’s eyes.

Part of the reconciliation is letting God see into your soul through your eyes.  God sees all that is there, alive, dead, beautiful, ugly, clean, dirty.  God loves you and wants you to be whole and holy.  What does God see in you that makes God happy? Write this down so you remember it.

What does God see in you that God wants to clean up, beautify, or resurrect? Write this down so you can remember it.

Please give God permission to fix what needs fixing and to love you into a life of resurrection.

Now, this is the business of sitting down to listen to Jesus, the Son of God, sent by God into our world to show us what God is like and what perfect human life is.  Jesus said about himself, “I do what God tells me to do and say what God tells me to say.”  Jesus's kind of life lived in connection with God wasn’t because Jesus was so different from us; this is what human beings are made for. Jesus came to teach us how to live this way.  It is a life of listening and risky obedience.  It can get you out of trouble with others and into trouble.  And it is not simply an individualistic way to live.  Whole congregations, like S. Salem, can live this way.

Many years ago, when I was in high school, a Lutheran minister named Bill Vaswig came to Newberg Friends.  Bill taught me to ask God for help, listen, and then try to do what I heard to do.  It was very simple.  I observe many times that I ask desperately for help over and over and never sit still long enough to hear what God says.  I also observe that sometimes when I get a nudge, I fail to recognize it as God and thus do not obey it.  I also notice that sometimes I ask, I do what I hear, and God is in it.  I don’t always even have to ask. 

How do I know it is God I’m hearing from?  The Holy Spirit turns out to be quite practical a lot of the time, and most often very matter of fact, and sometimes quirkily funny.  And what I’m told is not a violation of spiritual truth but instead advice about how to implement it in my life.

I may have told this very story here before, but it is a good one, so I’ll tell it again.  I spent about 10 years working to forgive someone who had wounded me so deeply it affects my life to this day.  I said to God over and over, "I know I am supposed to forgive, and right now, all I can do is say to you, ok, if you forgive this person, I will forgive you for doing it.  You can let him into heaven if you have to be so scandalously gracious.  This is the best I can do."

Then one day I was driving with the radio on, and I heard in my spirit the words, “Becky, you can do better than that.”  “Ok,” I said. “You’re right.  Please forgive this person.  Please let him into heaven.” 

Well, I can tell you that listening and obeying and saying what God wanted was so freeing to my spirit. The person had died, and I felt in my car a spirit that was grateful for my forgiveness. I believe my forgiveness set that other person’s spirit more free to receive God’s love also. 

At least twice when I have been so angry at God, I have been very frank in expressing my feelings about how things are going.  “Do you know what you’re doing?” I have cried out in outrage and despair.  My experience is that in the quiet following those cries, God talks back.  This is the crucial teaching of the book of Job.  Job rails against God, and God shows up to talk. And Job says, “I talked a lot, and now I see you, and I regret what I said, I choose God over myself, and I repent and am comforted here in my dust and ashes.”

Jesus comes to help us when we ask.  We need to have the faith of Martha to say, “We know you are sent by God, God’s Son. What you want to do, you can do.  What do you want us to do next?”

As you experience a year where you are caring for each other as pastors, it falls on each of you to prepare for worship together by asking God if there’s something you need to sing, pray, or preach, or if there is someone you need to bring to Jesus as the congregation meets. If anyone lacks wisdom, just ask God, who gives wisdom liberally and without scolding. 

Jesus is here today to teach you himself.  Jesus is the head of the church universal and local.  Jesus is smart, capable, and strong and well worth listening to, obeying, and following around.

1 comment:

Rebecca Ankeny said...

I preached this yesterday at 2nd Street Community Church (Friends) in Newberg. I usually am preoccupied with how much time I'm leaving for folks to get their eyes on God's eyes, but this time God said a couple of things to me--namely, lay down your burdens and don't try to fix things. One other thing I'll keep to myself was very encouraging. Try reconciling with God; I can tell you it makes life better.